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Success by Design

business design Apr 10, 2021
Lanny Goodman

Everything ever created by human beings whether tangible or intangible was designed often badly, but occasionally with astonishing power and elegance. Sometimes with nefarious intent, sometimes altruistic, often just for commercial benefit.

In our culture we tend to equate design with things that are relatively superficial such as fashion or interior design (although many would contest the characterization as superficial).

Engineers however, know that everything they do is about design.

How potentially powerful is design? 

Apple computer was built on a foundation of very intentionally creating a pleasing, functional, experience for the customer, be it the material from which the computer power cord is made that naturally loops elegantly when coiling it up, to the software, to the voice on the other end of the customer service phone line. Every aspect of Apple is designed to create the most positive experience for the customer. Are they perfect? Of course not, but Apple has built one hell of a company on that foundation.

How about your company? How well designed is it?

Answering this question means really digging deeply. Most companies are cobbled together as the demands of growth are imposed. The result is a creation that is sub-optimized for its ultimate purpose.

This brings us to the whole point of design. 

What makes great design is that tangible or intangible, it is deeply ordered. 

The old saying goes, “Form follows function” which is exactly correct. When the function is deeply understood, that understanding drives the creation, the design of the form in ways both macro and micro.

In working with the CEOs of closely held companies, the question I always ask is, 

“Do you own your company or does your company own you?” 

Feeling trapped in the demands of your own company to the detriment of your quality of life, your relationship with spouse and children is an all-too common symptom of a company that is not well designed. 

Company design goes far beyond organization structure. The company’s systems and processes ultimately determine how the organization functions.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom of entrepreneurship is that 60-80 hour weeks are the norm, because after all, the buck stops at the CEO’s desk.

Again, this is a symptom of a company that has not been designed to fulfill the needs of the owner. The good news is that the CEO has the autonomy to redesign the company. The same logic, however, applies to a career. A job won’t provide the autonomy necessary for company redesign, but a career path may involve multiple companies.

Remember, the foundation of great design is that it’s deeply ordered. In the design of a company, to get at the ordering principles, there are four questions that need to be asked and answered. In the case of a CEO of a closely held company, the answers to these questions must be explored along with his or her spouse/partner.

  1. What do I (we) need and want out of life?
  2. We have this company, how can it help us accomplish what we need and want out of life?
  3. What would the company need to look like in order to help us accomplish our life aspirations?
  4. How do we get it there from where it is now?

What these questions accomplish is to lay the foundation for the function of the company out of which will emerge its form.

In a public company, the set of questions is very different, but for the closely held company, answering these questions begins the game-changing clarification that leads to the powerful redesign of the company.

It’s important to emphasize that while making money is always one of the objectives of the first question, money is virtually never the sole purpose. If it is, the CEO has some serious introspection to undertake. 

Particularly in today’s world with the many multi-layered challenges we all face, the qualitative dimensions of that business purpose are real, essential, and appropriate to address. These qualitative dimensions will also largely shape the systems and processes that will determine the culture of the business, an essential component of the business design process.

You may not think of yourself as a designer, but be it for your business or career, you are doing design work whether you are aware of it or not. You can do it badly, or you can do it well.

Just think for a moment on the great design that you have experienced in your life. In every dimension of human endeavor, you will find examples of great design.

  • The Eiffel Tower
  • The iPhone
  • The Ferrari
  • The internet

just to name a few. In every field of endeavor you will find products and services of astonishing design. Why should the company that you have worked and bled for be treated with any less care and attention?

If you have further questions about this subject, including the methods for answering these questions, feel free to reach out to me.